The digital revolution is transforming ways of working, especially in the field of finance. At ICAEW’s Annual Conference this year, experts across the field speculated about the future of finance. Some suggested that it will be completely automated and independent, eliminating the need for human finance professionals. Others envision a broader and more value-orientated finance function with a greater focus on sustainability and value for clients and customers.
Many shared the view that finance functions will need to adapt to new technologies and simplified and automated processes. Technological transformation will enable finance functions and professionals to drive insights for better decision-making and curiosity for innovation.
The changing role of the CFO
As the digital revolution reshapes the business landscape, the role of the CFO is also changing. Some experts have speculated that the role of the CFO will become obsolete. Others argue that the CFO will need to adapt to new challenges and opportunities. David Anderson, Partner at Deloitte, suggested that there were two possible directions for CFO roles following the automation of most finance processes:
- Finance as a platform: one future sees CFO teams become significantly smaller, becoming more responsible for controls and regulatory filings, with analytics, insights and decision support services emerging from other business leaders.
- Exponential value creation: the other future sees the distinctions between CFOs, CEOs and COOs blurring. They see the CFO as a role that steers the business, driven by the blending of financial, commercial and operational data to build predictive services and analysis.
Robert Blomfield, Head of Global Business Services at Burberry, echoed the former. He sees the CFO as a ‘Chief Facilitation Officer’ who can leverage data and automation to streamline finance processes and support wider strategy execution. Understanding financial processes will still be important for this, so these skills are unlikely to become obsolete.
He also emphasised the continuing importance of risk management and corporate governance, which are core functions of the CFO and finance department. However, he acknowledged that IT will no longer be a separate function, rather an integral part of the business ecosystem. Therefore, finance teams will need to collaborate with IT and tech professionals to ensure alignment and business growth going forward.
Taking your team on the journey
On the other hand, Lego Group has been focusing its digital transformation efforts on improving employee wellbeing and experience. Mahesh Ramaswamy, the group’s Senior Director in Corporate Finance, suggested that technological transformation of processes should ultimately make the employee experience better.
There has also been a lot of speculation about the future of the profession and the role of technology. Junior roles as they exist today are becoming much rarer and the profession needs to focus on long-term value generation to stay relevant. Ramaswamy added that while organisations may see a smaller number of juniors join at entry-level, companies should encourage juniors – digital natives – to lead technological transformation.
Lola Abitogun, Founder of Alchemy HR, shared why taking your team on the journey is important. Involving employees in the transformation process can help to improve communication, streamline processes and enable better work-life balance. However, she acknowledged that there are challenges along the way. Organisations will encounter fear of change, a lack of understanding and a perceived job threat. She recommended Kotter’s 8-step Change Model to help manage change among staff.
Focus on present challenges
Accountants and firms are still struggling with leveraging the potential of cloud computing and connected apps. Cloud computing offers firms many benefits, such as integration of tools and services with various accounting platforms, scalability and cost-efficiency.
Similarly, firms and organisations that utilise connected applications via APIs (application programming interfaces) to connect services and systems tend to generate more revenue and grow faster. Despite these benefits, Will Farnell, a co-founder of App Advisory Plus, noted that only 20% of firms have adopted cloud computing and its capabilities. This is where accountants play a significant role in helping businesses overcome the challenges of using new technology and achieving their goals.
An expert panel with Tim Gonzaga, Technical Director at Moore Kingston Smith, and Kathryn Cearns OBE, FCA, FCCA, hosted by Confirmation, echoed this view for audit firms. They described technology as the key that can bridge the gap between an audit firm’s current state and ambitions. The panel suggested that firms should focus on futureproofing by investing time and resources exploring new technologies, talking to vendors and keeping up with changes in the views of regulators.
In audit, technologies such as automation and AI are already changing ways of working and are being used to simplify audit processes and automate time-consuming tasks that involve manual cross-checking and ticking.
Engine B also launched its Copilot last month, which can assist teams with audit testing such as lease accounting in its initial phase. The widespread use of Copilot in audit is not too far away in the future and will require auditors to adapt to its capabilities and limitations.
Auditors need to understand how technology will shift working in audit and prepare to adopt new skillsets for the changes that are coming. As working practices evolve, firms will also need to consider what this means for the current billable hours model and how we define value creation in audit.
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This guidance is created by the Tech Faculty & recognised internationally as a leading authority on technology and the digital economy. The Faculty draws on expertise from the accountancy profession, tech industry and others to influence and inform government and international bodies.
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